Watching the debate aftermath on Fox last Thursday and listening to the focus group give their reasons for why Fred Thompson won the debate, I had something of an epiphany.
Each member of the focus group gave their personal opinion of why they thought Fred won and then, almost as an afterthought, most of them threw in the bit about it being “too late” for Fred to win, as if mouthing the conventional MSM wisdom about Fred it made them seem “smarter” – at least in their own eyes.
My epiphany was that they really didn’t believe that. No rational person could say after two primaries that it was “too late” for anything or for anybody. This goes double for the GOP race since even the most cynical analyst would have to conclude that the race is still wide open.
Why would otherwise rational people regurgitate what they believe is the dominant media narrative about any candidate – especially after the utter, complete, total, meltdown of punditry with regard to New Hampshire? The fact is, Frank Luntz wasn’t asking those members of his focus group to give their opinion. He was asking them to be pundits on live television. In that respect, the whole purpose of the focus group was defeated and what we were left with were ordinary people trying to imitate their favorite talking head on TV. Those good citizens, if pressed, would not be able to tell you why it was too late for Thompson. And it they did they would simply echo what they had heard or read previously.
My reading is that television (and to a lesser extent radio and print media) punditry is a hugely competitive business. And you don’t get ahead by being right. You get ahead by being one step ahead of everybody else in analyzing what will happen tomorrow. In that sense, obituaries are a natural. All it takes is a few well known writers or commentators to start the idea and before long, the whole baying pack have picked up the scent and the conventional wisdom becomes set in stone.
Now there is no doubt that Fred Thompson’s campaign suffered through nearly 3 months of running in place – uninspiring, unfocused, even aimless at times. And prior to that, the media, like little children on a long car trip, got antsy about the candidate’s entry into the race. In short, the pundits were writing Thompson’s obituary before he ever got in and then once running, discovered that there really wasn’t much to write or talk about. Thompson’s low key appearances where he talked about a future in peril due to our profligate spending and inability to deal with entitlements was not playing well with the voters and as a result, his poll numbers tanked.
But the campaign changed in the middle of December and has been much more focused in delivering its message. The candidate himself has become more active and the people in Iowa seemed to respond.
But when do you throw conventional wisdom in the trash and start over? For pundits, they guard CW as if it were the crown jewels because bound up in that blather is their reputation, their self esteem, their raison d’etre. Only a political earthquake (or the intrusion of a New Hampshire like reality) can dislodge the punditocracy from their cherished talking points.
Well, there is a political earthquake going on in South Carolina and I believe that conventional wisdom is about to be turned on its head. In the two days since the GOP debate, Fred Thompson has been drawing enthusiastic, overflow crowds all over South Carolina. The candidate himself has not only been energized but I believe he has finally found a theme that resonates with all factions in the party; this election will decide the fate of the Republican party and what kind of party do you want? Do you want it to be the party of Huckster? The party of Rudy? The party of McCain? The party of interloper Romney?
Limbaugh had it right. When Thompson made that impassioned plea for the Reagan coalition and called out Huckabee for his liberalism, it was almost “orgasmic” for many conservatives. And more importantly for Thompson, the campaign may very well have turned then and there.This gathering in Mount Pleasant was typical of the kinds of crowds that have been turning out since the debate.
Are those the crowds of a candidate at 9% in the polls?
It’s difficult for me to separate myself from my cheerleading tendencies and give a dispassionate analysis of where the Thompson campaign stands in South Carolina. But if those crowds continue to turn out and even grow, it would be hard to dismiss the idea that Fred is back in the hunt and regardless of what McCain does in Michigan, has a decent shot at the gold there.
And conventional wisdom will just have to adjust itself to that fact.
Very smartly, I think, the campaign is trying to cash in on the building momentum by continuing their fundraising effort. Now they’re looking to raise a cool million by midnight tomorrow night. As of this morning at 7:30 central, they’re at $871,000.
Fred has enough for a very good ad buy and would probably use the extra cash to maximize his ground game in South Carolina. Use the handy form below and help Fred go the distance.